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March 9, 2009 | by  | in News |
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Pro Chancellor kia oras Mayor’s $20,000 trip

VUW Pro Chancellor and Wellington City Councillor Ian McKinnon has given Mayor Kerry Prendergast’s $20,000 overseas junket his blessing, calling the trip an “appropriate” opportunity to promote the capital city’s profile.

McKinnon, in his role as deputy mayor, cast the deciding vote in favour of the controversial excursion, which includes business-class fares, meals, transport and accommodation.

Speaking to Salient, McKinnon acknowledged the criticism news of the trip had garnered, but supported it nonetheless.

“I can certainly appreciate that residents are concerned about costs, particularly in these economic times. However, in such economic times it may be even more important the Wellington flag is ‘flown abroad’, as long as it brings economic and social benefits,” McKinnon said.

“My view at the ‘high level’ was that Wellington must seize appropriate oppor-tunities to profile the city, for both economic and social reasons—this is especially so in view of our location. We can more easily be forgotten down here than some care to think.”

McKinnon hoisted the value of expanding Wellington’s university-aged population’s horizons by citing two examples.

“It would be fair to say that directly, at this stage in their lives, [the benefit to students] will probably not [be] that great, although there are educational and sporting exchanges with both Arras (France) and Sakai (Japan),” McKinnon said.

“I would simply say that for [Wellington’s university population] it will be a more certain future in Wellington if Wellington is an internationally recognised and competitive city. One must constantly work at this though, to ensure that this is so, for where we are located it can never be taken for granted—and this is what the mayor is doing.”

In response to similar queries from Salient, Prendergast also made allusions to Wellington’s young reaping the fruits of growth and global exposure.

pro-vice-chancellor1

“As residents of Wellington, our city’s young people benefit from international travel I undertake in the same way all other residents of Wellington do—through the strengthening of relationships and the development of new economic development and tourism opportunities,” Prendergast said.

“This will be the first time in six years that I will have visited Sakai, with which the city has a very important relationship. In the 15 years we’ve been sister cities, we’ve had delegations and visitors in their hundreds from Sakai come to Wellington specifically because of that relationship. Many of them are young people.”

The inclement economic climate has blown a gust of financial reform across the door of the WCC, with the council voting to slice $50m from its books in the coming decade. Prendergast professed awareness of the world’s money-shaped problems, but remained stoic in defence of her travel.

“We thought long and hard about whether or not to undertake the travel at this time. We are very conscious of the current economic climate and, where possible, are tightening our belts across the board,” she said.

“But we are also very conscious about not completely shutting ourselves off from new opportunities for growth and development. International relationships built through travel are among those opportunities.”

The mayor’s much-maligned trip’s itinerary takes in stops in Gallipoli, French towns Arras and St-Maclou and Sakai City in Japan.

Prendergast will also be speaking to a forum of filmmakers in Hong Kong, where she will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Hongkonese film industry—with the forum’s organisers paying for that leg of the travel.

McKinnon was quick to point out that each stopover on the mayor’s journey was of relevance to Wellington, and, in some cases, of symbolic importance.

“The mayor has been invited to accompany the Governor-General to the ANZAC Gallipoli commemorations, which gives standing to Wellington to the many thousands who attend the ceremonies there,” he said.

“She has [also] been invited to St-Maclou where a James Stellin (a young Wellingtonian) avoided crashing his plane into the town, killing himself on its outskirts. This is commemorated with Stellin Park in Northland and St-Maclou wants the Mayor to be present as its town square is named after him.”

Despite the mixed reaction from Wellington City Councillors, one of whom celebrated the trip’s bitter reception by regaling those who voted for it with, “You might have won the vote but we won the PR battle!”

McKinnon disagreed with the sentiment.

“I don’t see it that way at all. This was simply about continuing to make sure Wellington is a strong city, economically and socially, going forward.”

The trip is scheduled for 23 days between April and May.

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